Monday, 3 October 2016

Mid autumn birding

The period of time beginning roughly in late September and continuing on through most of October is one of my favorite times of the year, especially when it comes to looking for birds. Songbird migration is in full swing even though most of the warblers and vireos have already vacated the province in anticipation of the inevitable cold winds of November. Mid-autumn is dominated by sparrows, Yellow-rumped Warblers and kinglets, but for those who look there are gems to be found with the songbird flocks including thrushes, some of the later warblers and occasional stragglers like Scarlet Tanager or various flycatchers. On top of that, this time of year is often peak jaeger migration time, and on bouts of suitable winds it is possible to see species like Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Sabine's Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake and other pelagic species along with all three species of jaegers. Shorebirds are still passing through in good numbers at this time of year, and the first gulls and ducks, harbingers of many more to come until early winter, have ascended upon southern Ontario. To top it all off, the weather can be absolutely gorgeous, providing strong motivation to get out the door and go birding.

This past weekend I was able to spend a substantial amount of time birding, starting with a lake watch in Hamilton on Friday. Along with many of southern Ontario's finest birders, I scoped the west end of Lake Ontario and was not disappointed as the winds picked up throughout the morning. Highlights included a trio of Brant with a single Canada Goose, many distant jaegers with a few coming close enough to identify as Parasitic, a juvenile Long-tailed Jaeger, and a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull. No sign of the shearwater sp. which had been reported on the previous two days. There was some evidence of duck migration as well including numerous scoters, and a few Peregrine Falcons also passed by. I had to leave by late morning to finish a report for work unfortunately and so missed Pomarine Jaeger and Sabine's Gull which were seen later by others. I finished the day by stopping by Tollgate Ponds and seeing the long-staying Whimbrel. It was the first time that I have observed that species in October.

Dan Riley came over on Friday night and on Saturday morning we made our way back to Van Wagner's as east winds were predicted to pick up as the day went on. We quickly stopped at the Grimsby lagoons on our way (they have been closed during the week for construction).

Downy Woodpecker - Hamilton

This was an excellent decision as quite a few songbirds had dropped into the lagoons overnight, chipping and zeeping and seeting from the dense shrubbery and herbaceous vegetation along the edges of the lagoons. Among numerous Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers we also found a group of Magnolias, an Orange-crowned and some Common Yellowthroats. Sparrows included three Lincoln's, and a singing Warbling Vireo was getting somewhat late. Despite the somewhat decent water levels few shorebirds were in - we counted one Dunlin along with the Least Sandpipers, Killdeer and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

The moderately strong winds had not yet materialized so we scrapped our plans of Van Wagner's, instead going for a long walk at nearby Confederation Park. We were anticipating good numbers of songbirds and were not disappointed. The entire park was crawling with birds! One lawn had around 40 Northern Flickers, while a large flock of 20+ Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were also around. Hundreds of White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows were in the undergrowth and we tallied eleven species of warblers. Some of the highlights from the walk included Brown Thrashers, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Tennessee, Bay-breasted and Orange-crowned Warblers. All in all, a really nice selection of birds!

Eastern Wood-Pewee - Confederation Park, Hamilton

Next, we continued walking to the Van Wagner's Ponds and as we were birding I received a notification about a Sedge Wren that Dave Don had found at the ponds. Unfortunately it remained hidden for us! I did stop to photograph this obliging Black-crowned Night-Heron. As you can see, it is adorned with a metal band around its tarsus and presumably a radio transmitter as well, of which only the antenna is visible.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - Van Wagner's Ponds, Hamilton

Sunday was a full day of birding, this time with good friend Todd Hagedorn. Long Point was on the agenda and I was looking forward to my first visit to Norfolk County in over three years. The question was whether we would be able to weather the weather - bands of rain were supposed to pass through all day.

Luckily for us the birding and herping was quite good throughout the day, despite the occasional period of inclement weather. We randomly ran into members of the University of Guelph Wildlife Club and had a leisurely morning of birding with them that was highlighted by a few flocks of songbirds (including late-ish Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers) and even some herps! We helped this neonate Blanding's Turtle and Eastern Foxsnake back to the proper side of the fence that was supposed to keep them away from the roadside.

Blanding's Turtle

Eastern Foxsnake

Todd and I stopped at the viewing tower at Big Creek Wildlife Management Area, located along the causeway. While standing on the tower I scanned a few of the sparrows that were alongside the dyke and was surprised to see a little orange sparrow! It was a Nelson's Sparrow, and a life bird for Todd. Failing in my digiscoping attempts, I ran back to the car for the real camera and was luckily able to relocated the sparrow along with a second Nelson's Sparrow. These are the first eBird records of Nelson's Sparrow from Norfolk County away from the tip of Long Point where occasional migrants have been seen in the past.

Nelson's Sparrow - Big Creek WMA

Nelson's Sparrow - Big Creek WMA

Todd and I stopped at the Port Rowan lagoons, which a week earlier had hosted a pair of Long-billed Dowitchers. No dowitchers were in this time (a pair of Greater Yellowlegs being the only shorebirds) but again, songbirds stole the show. In the smartweed and other weeds along the edges of the lagoons we turned up quite a few warblers and sparrows, including an Orange-crowned Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, and Wilson's Warbler. A late Green Heron was also working the pond edges while a Sora called, the first I've had in October.

We next stopped at the Jarvis lagoons before finishing at Townsend sewage lagoons. Jarvis was dead, though I did finally photograph my first Marsh Wren for Ontario - species photographed #353. They are pretty poor photos (tough to get a clean shot of Marsh Wrens this time of year!) so I will spare your eyes the sight.

Townsend was also slow, but we did add some new species for the day including American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, and Black-bellied Plover, finishing with around 90 species before we went our separate ways.

Rock Point Provincial Park

After saying good bye to Todd I drove over to Rock Point (it is kind of on my way back) to close out the day. More rain passed through during the drive, but as I pulled up with an hour of sunlight left, the sun actually broke through the clouds. I had an excellent hour and a half of birding as I followed a large mixed flock through the woods - awesome birding! The lighting conditions and frenetic foraging motions of the birds made it difficult to view and identify most individuals, but eventually I was able to pick out a few odds and ends including a late Blackburnian Warbler among 9 warblers species, and a late Spotted Sandpiper along the shoreline. As the sun set on another great weekend I took a few was a fantastic weekend during one of my favorite times of the year.

Rock Point Provincial Park


  1. Some great shots of some of the birds you found, especially the normally fairly secretive Nelson's. And a terrific sunset to end the weekend....well done, Josh!